Communications Minister, Siphiwe Nyanda, recently suggested a review of an alternative system, the Japanese-developed, Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting (ISDB) standard. However, the DVB standard was approved by Cabinet and has been confirmed as the benchmark with all the necessary regulations.
M-Net and e.tv said that by already investing in trialling the DVB standard, this move could delay migration for years and result in more unnecessary expenses, which have to date, cost over R250-million.
M-Net CEO, Patricia Scholtemeyer, said that “the success of South Africa’s digital migration is hanging in the balance.” With the November 2011 deadline looming and the ongoing successful trials of DVB, “we wonder about the review and why it’s taking place so late in the game.“ Another concern is that government has not stated the economic value of the possible move to the Japanese model.
“The review could mean unnecessary delays, which will impact on TV viewers,” Scholtemeyer said.
e.tv CEO, Marcel Golding, said that both e.tv and M-Net are “ready to go” with DVB but added that opening the debate at this time will undermine co-ordination and processes. He said that after eight years of scrutiny, no explanations for the proposed review have been given – a ‘disappointing’ move that is not in spirit of the process’ initial development, involving transparency; participation; and integration. “It now seems quasi-unilateral and we can’t properly engage.”
M-Net Director of Regulatory and Legal Affairs, Karen Willenberg, commented that the selection of an appropriate standard is an important decision in making the migration to digital, as it will ensure that consumers have a seamless experience with digital. That’s why the DVB standard was adopted in 2005, followed by the updated DVB standard - DVBT - for digital migration in 2008, when cabinet approved the DVBT digital migration policy.
This move, she said, resulted in the formation of a terrestrial broadcasting frequency plan entirely based on DVBT and now, despite two independent ministerial task teams recommending DVB after investigations of all available standards, the Department of Communications is considering a change to ISDB.
Willenberg’s counterpart at e.tv, Lara Kantor, ended the session by highlighting the negative consequences of implementing the ISDB system. She said that African consensus on the standard will be undermined, as countries in the rest of the continent have already chosen DVBT as the preferred option, and some have already started broadcasting on the new standard. She further commented that all investments made in the technology to date will be wasted, with a possible consequence of requiring additional government funding. By adopting the new standard, consumers would also need to pay more for ISDB set top boxes, which have not been developed in South Africa as a result of the initial selection of the DVBT standard; the digital migration process would be delayed by a number of years; and, the lack of ISDB technology and skill in the country would mean a heavy reliance on foreign manufacturers, therefore negatively affecting local ones.